An Olympic tournament that started with so much hope for the home team ended today in a manner no one expected. A crowd that started the game chanting and cheering ended with the same, but not for the reasons they were expecting. They, like many others around the world, were shocked by the result, as Team Russia lost to an injured Team Finland, three to one.
Perhaps a bit overexcited by the importance of the game or the boisterous crowd that was almost entirely pro-Russian, Russia started the game off disjointed, with Ilya Kovalchuk taking a penalty for interference just two minutes into the game. Team Russia would kill the penalty off and be given an opportunity of their own soon after, when Finnish forward Mikael Granlund was caught holding a Russian player. The ensuing powerplay would give the Russians the lead, as Kovalchuk would make amends for his earlier penalty and fire a slapshot past Finnish goaltender, Tuuka Rask from the top of the offensive zone.
Unfortunately for the home country, that lead would not last long. Finnish forward, Juhamatti Aaltonen, would make a great individual effort and sneak the puck past Russian goaltender, Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov appeared to have the angle covered, but the puck managed to find a hole in the goaltender’s body and wound up in the back of the net. Russian defenseman, Nikita Nikitin, was thoroughly undressed by Aaltonen, who easily passed by the defender to score the goal.
Late in the first, Russia’s defense was again victimized by Team Finland. Granlund would chip the puck past the Russian defense, then find the ageless wonder, Teemu Selanne all alone in the slot. The 43-year-old is participating in his sixth Olympic tournament, and it would be his goal that gave Finland the lead just before the period ended. It was Selanne’s 22nd Olympic goal, third highest total in Olympic history. Selanne would later say after the game that the shocking win over Team Russia ranked as one of his best Olympic moments, especially given the injuries Finland had to overcome.
Finland picked four centers in their initial Olympic selections, and all four centers would end up injured and missed most of these Olympic games. Players like Granlund and Selanne helped Finland produce the offense that might have been missed by these injuries, but it was Russia’s offense that was the real story of the tournament. Despite having dangerous offensive talent up and down their lineup, Team Russia really only received production from one line, a line containing Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Alexander Radulov. Leading goalscorer in the National Hockey League the past two years, Alexander Ovechkin, scored a goal for Russia just 77 seconds into their first game, but was held goalless for the remainder of the tournament.
Finland would increase their lead to two early in the second period, getting a goal from Granlund on the powerplay. And though Russia would get their chances throughout the rest of the game, no more goals would find their way past Tuuka Rask. The crowd chanted and cheered as the timer counted down, not in celebration, but in appreciation for the hard work the Russians put forth. Despite the unexpected loss, the home team is still the home team after all.
The gold medal in ice hockey was a medal that Russian president, Vladimir Putin, called “the most important medal” in these Olympic games. It was one that Team Russia had put expectations on themselves to win. But in the end, they ended these Olympic games like they had the previous two: medal-less. This time, their journey ends in the quarterfinals, after a shocking win by an injured Team Finland over Team Russia, three to one.
By Jonathan Gardner